For two years and counting, I have been the sort of smug person who does not use Facebook. I didn’t deactivate my account because I hated Facebook—I barred myself from access because I loved it too much. I scrolled down my newsfeed during parties, perused profiles of acquaintances instead of looking at my surroundings, and anxiously waited for friends to “react” to my status updates. Once I wiped Facebook from my life, I thought friends would forget me, knowing that Facebook was so fundamental to our daily lives.
But then I found my friends on Foursquare Swarm, an app-based social network that allows you to “check in” to locations and track your travels. And I suddenly knew more about their lives than I ever did before—who was going to the gym twice a day, who went clubbing on Wednesday nights, who was eating at Michelin star restaurants in London every day. You can even leave comments on each other’s check-ins, and I started getting back in touch with friends that I had not spoken to in years—even when I had Facebook.
Foursquare was launched in 2009 and reached its heyday in 2012, when it began competing with Yelp. Now, it has more of a cult following—with much of that following swarming to Swarm.
In an age of social media where Facebook gets you into arguments, Twitter makes you anxious, and Instagram makes you jealous, Swarm is programmed like a game to help you actually explore the real world and meet up with friends in your real life. You get extra “points” for checking into a new place and for checking in with friends who also use Swarm. Is it sad that I need an app to keep myself social? I don’t think so; it’s just classic positive reinforcement.
“I use it for similar reasons I played Pokémon Go,” said my real life friend (and Swarm friend) 26-year-old Isaac Santos. “It’s fun to go somewhere and check in, get points and see how you fare against friends. But, beyond the gamified aspect to the app, I think its core value lies in discovering new places or continuing to go back to the same place because it’s great and you want your friends to know how obsessed with it.” For example, I know that Santos eats at fast-casual chain Sweetgreen almost once a day. It inspires me, sometimes, to make a salad.
Foursquare, which raised $45 million last year, recently rebranded Swarm as a “lifelog” app that keeps track of your travels and analyzes your movement patterns. (That data is, indeed, lucrative and invaluable: restaurant chain TGIFridays, a customer of Foursquare, now knows where their customers often might eat.) It even provides a handy interactive map that shows you every place you’ve ever been to in the world. It will tell you exactly where you were several years ago (obviously as long as you were using the app back then).
And it will improve your life if you, like me, are prone to losing trinkets like jewelry or forgetting the name of a favorite eatery you swore you’d return to. Even if you’re, say, under the influence, Swarm’s interface remains almost foolproof: If you can drunk text, you can check in.
Once, when I realized I had lost a ring in Dublin (not drunk, just absentminded), the first thing I did was scroll through my Swarm check-ins of the days. It detailed exactly where I had been—and when I was there, and I managed to call the restaurant and get my ring back.
Still, even though Foursquare may encourage users to explore the world, support their regular establishments, and discover new venues, it also helps others know too much about your daily patterns: “The one thing that I do think about is checking into the same place too often, which makes means I could be perceived as boring or unadventurous,” Santos explained.
But we’re also helping each other create new patterns in our lives. Earlier this year, I invited Santos to work out with me at cult gym, 305 Fitness. Last week, he went back by himself. We reconnected afterwards.